ORIGIN OF THE INVENTION
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
This invention was made by an employee of the United States Government and may be manufactured and used by or for the Government of the United States of America for governmental purposes without the payment of any royalties thereon or therefor. Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §119, the benefit of priority from provisional application 60/780,172, with a filing date of Feb. 6, 2006, is claimed for this non-provisional application.
1. Field of the Invention
This invention relates to cooling systems and methods for lasers. More specifically, the invention is a thin-film evaporative cooling system and method for use with side-pumped lasers.
2. Description of the Related Art
The essential elements of a side-pumped laser are the laser's crystal rod and one or more laser diodes that are spaced apart from the radial surface of the crystal rod. The laser diode(s) “pump” light energy radially into the crystal rod. Due to the low optical efficiencies of luminescent crystals, most of the incident energy is converted into heat. The quality of the luminescent crystal output is typically characterized by the pulse energy, and the central tendency around a single output wavelength. The pulse energy is increased with lower average crystal temperatures while the output wavelength is affected by temperature as well. Consequently, large temperature gradients across the crystal (i.e., normal to the rod's cross-section) produce a wide variance in the output wavelength. Consequently, a side-pumped laser crystal thermal management system has three goals:
1. Prevent thermally-induced damage due to thermally-induced stresses.
2. Maintain the crystal rod at as low a temperature as possible.
3. Minimize temperature variation across the crystal rod.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Currently, conductive cooling is used for thermal management in many side-pumped lasers. Typically, a thermally-conductive support structure is coupled to the crystal rod. While totally passive, conductively-cooled configurations generate insufficient cooling, produce non-uniform temperature distributions across the crystal rod's cross-section, and are sensitive to minor variations in contact pressure at the conductive interface.
Accordingly, it is an object of the present invention to provide a thermal management method and system for a side-pumped laser.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a method and system that uniformly cools the crystal rod of a side-pumped laser.
Other objects and advantages of the present invention will become more obvious hereinafter in the specification and drawings.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In accordance with the present invention, a system and method are provided for cooling a crystal rod of a side-pumped laser. A transparent housing receives the crystal rod therethrough. An annular gap is defined between the housing and the radial surface of the crystal rod all along the axial length of the crystal rod. A fluid coolant is injected into the annular gap such that the annular gap is partially filled with the fluid coolant while the radial surface of the crystal rod is wetted as a thin film all along the axial length thereof. The partial filling of the annular gap ensures an evaporative region will be formed over the wetted surface of the crystal rod.
FIG. 1 is a part schematic, part cross-sectional view of a side-pumped laser equipped with a thin-film evaporative cooling system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is an operational view of the FIG. 1 embodiment;
FIG. 3 is a part schematic, part cross-sectional side view of a side-pumped laser equipped with thin-film evaporative cooling system in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 4 is an operational view of the FIG. 3 embodiment;
FIG. 5 is a schematic, part cross-sectional end view of a side-pumped laser equipped with a thin-film evaporative cooling system in accordance with yet another embodiment of the present invention; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 6 is an operational view of the FIG. 5 embodiment.
Referring now to the drawings and more particularly to FIG. 1, a conventional side-pumped laser is equipped with a thermal management system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. As is well-known in the art, the essential elements of a side-pumped laser are a crystal rod 10 and one or more laser diodes 12. Crystal rod 10 extends axially along the longitudinal axis 10A thereof. Laser diodes 12 are positioned adjacent to crystal rod 10 such that light energy pumped from laser diodes 12 impinges on a radial surface 10S of crystal rod 10. Typically, a number of laser diodes 12 are distributed radially about crystal rod 10 at different positions along the axial length of crystal rod 10. However, it is to be understood that the illustrated version is merely an example and that the particular type/shape/length of crystal rod 10 as well as the particular number/position of laser diodes 12 are not limitations of the present invention.
In accordance with the present invention, an optically transparent housing 20 (e.g. a glass housing) encases crystal rod 10 all along the axial length thereof. The transparency of housing 20 allows the light energy emanating from laser diodes 12 to pass into crystal rod 10. The internal surface of housing 20 is spaced apart from crystal rod 10 such that an annular region 22 is formed therebetween. Typically, crystal rod 10 and housing 20 are cylindrical in geometry with annular region 22 being of constant thickness along the length of crystal rod 10. A fluid injector 24 injects a coolant 26 in fluid form from a reservoir 28 into annular region 22 at one axial end 10E of crystal rod 10 as illustrated.
The operation of this embodiment will be explained now with reference to FIG. 2. In general, fluid injector 24 injects an amount of coolant 26 into annular region 22 under pressure such that the entire radial surface 10S of crystal rod 10 is wetted with coolant 26 while permitting an ullage or evaporative region 30 to be formed in annular region 22 between coolant 26 and housing 20. In other words, coolant 26 only partially fills annular region 22. Such partial filling of annular region 22 allows coolant 26 to evaporate into evaporative region 30 as coolant 26 heats up. The evaporated coolant in region 30 will flow in region 30 along with coolant 26 as indicated by directional arrow 32. The flowing coolant 26 and the evaporated form thereof in evaporative region 30 exit annular region 22 at axial end 10EE of crystal rod 10. If desired, the exiting coolant 26 and the evaporated form thereof can be returned to reservoir 28 as indicated by the return line referenced by numeral 40.
In order to provide for the total wetting of radial surface 10S, factors such as the length/diameter of crystal rod 10, the coolant injection pressure/velocity, and the adhesion between coolant 26 and radial surface 10S need to be considered. Furthermore, the cooling effect provided by coolant 26 must be considered. That is, effective cooling of the crystal rod is achieved with a coolant that can exhibit cooling properties when only “wetting” radial surface 10S with a thin-film thereof to prevent formation of bubbles by nucleate boiling. One of the requirements for fluid cooling of side-pumped lasers is that the incident diode pump radiation must be transmitted through the cooling medium without measurable attenuation. The formation of bubbles in the film would scatter the incident beam significantly, and is considered a failure mode for the thin-film system. As is known in the art, nucleated bubbles in a thin-film can only grow if the wall superheat is greater than the critical value for a given bubble radius. In other words, as the fluid film thins, the wall superheat required for bubble formation and growth increases well above the liquid's saturation temperature. See John G. Collier et al., “Convective Boiling and Condensation,” 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996. Taking all of these factors into consideration, suitable coolants include any of a variety of refrigerants having low saturation temperatures. A suitable class of refrigerants is azeotropic refrigerants, some of which can have saturation temperatures on the order of −50° C. or less. Refrigerants of this type would have to “wet” radial surface 10S at a thickness of approximately 10 microns or less to prevent nucleate-boiling bubble formation.
The embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2 minimizes shear forces at the liquid-vapor boundary (i.e., the boundary between coolant 26 and evaporative region 30). However, since the entire liquid mass of coolant 26 is injected at one axial end of crystal rod 10, the thickness of coolant 26 at its point of injection could exceed the “bubble formation” thickness. Accordingly, it may be desirable to inject coolant 26 into annular region 22 from opposing axial ends thereof as illustrated in FIGS. 3 and 4. More specifically, fluid injectors 24A and 24B inject coolant 26 all around crystal rod 10 from either end thereof. Evaporative region 30 will still be formed between coolant 26 and housing 20 with the evaporated coolant in region 30 flowing in opposite directions as indicated by directional arrows 32A and 32B. Advantages of this embodiment are the reduction in coolant injection velocity and vapor exit velocity as compared to the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1 and 2. However, coolant flow into annular region 22 must be balanced with the evaporation rate in order to prevent the accumulation of excess coolant 26 on crystal rod 10.
Still another embodiment of the present invention is illustrated in FIGS. 5 and 6 where coolant 26 is introduced/injected through one or more ports 21 formed in the radial wall of housing 20. A number of discrete sorts 21 could be formed in housing 20 at positions distributed about radial surface 10S of crystal rod 10. The number and positioning of such ports are not limitations of the present invention. By increasing the number of coolant injection locations, this embodiment may decrease the coolant injection pressure/velocity requirements.
The advantages of the present invention are numerous. By generating a thin-film, bubble-free layer of liquid coolant along the radial surface of a laser's crystal rod and an evaporative region above the thin-film, the present invention provides a novel approach to cooling side-pumped lasers without affecting laser performance.
Although the invention has been described relative to a specific embodiment thereof, there are numerous variations and modifications that will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art in light of the above teachings. It is therefore to be understood that, within the scope of the appended claims, the invention may be practiced other than as specifically described.